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A note from puddles4263

These aren't numbered, because I need to see which ending, this chapter or the next, will have people bitching less about cliffhangers....

Edit: 3/3

The next cliff is worse.

Randidly opened his mouth for a retort, but thought better of it. His entire body was quivering, slightly, with the rebound from using the Phantom’s Embrace. The physical toll was higher than it had ever been in battles against Azriel, but Randidly had somehow expected it. That was simply who Drak Wyrd was.

But because of that, Randidly was forced to allow Drak Wyrd to take the initiative. This was both a necessity and strategic: he needed those extra seconds to recover, but he also wanted Drak to attack and use his Aether, depleting himself. Goading him on like this seemed like the best strategy.

Then Drak moved, and Randidly began to feel a prickling of doubt, even as the rising tension in his body drew his mouth into a grin.

Drak advanced like a force of nature. Suddenly, everything else fell away, leaving only a wide, vast expanse, with the sun slowly creeping up over the horizon. The light and heat smashed into Randidly, sending him sprawling.

The force of the image itself… was enough to completely suppress him?!?! Randidly hoped that it had at least cost some Aether.

Even though he was knocked up off balance, the world became cold and dark, in stark contrast to the rising sun. A low mist clung to the ground in front of Randidly, and a low ticking began. With burning eyes, Randidly felt Phantom’s Embrace settle around him like a mantle. As long as he wasn’t forced to use the dodging component again…

Drak’s displeasure was palpable, as their images warred against each other. So much so that Drak stopped, and just pressed, the huge sun smashing down towards Randidly’s image for the Phantom’s Embrace.

An image, of course, wasn’t completely necessary for an attack. Even Randidly, who was starting to get a hang of using them, wasn’t entirely sure of what exactly they did, but they clearly helped. As best as he could understand it, the process of focusing on an image was strangely similar of focusing on punching through someone when you threw a fist.

You obviously didn’t throw a fist hard enough to go through someone, but the difference in mental aspects increased its power.

Images were that, except impossibly more broad and on a larger scale. At least for the Phantom’s Embrace, too, there was a sensory component, so that everything within the area of influence of the image Randidly was aware of.

Which was hard to wrap your head around, logically. By pretending to be part of a cloud of energy, his subconscious upped his detection skills within that cloud, giving him a sort of radar…? Well not radar, more like an amorphous body….?

Of course, the System, fueled by Aether and held within meaning, took care of the details, but it-

Randidly twisted his mouth as the impact came, Drak seeming to take his image and physically smash at Randidly’s, causing him to stagger again. The image of the dark location flickered, the mantle around Randidly’s shoulders weakening.

Gritting his teeth, Randidly suppressed his first instinct to lash out at the image. That was foolish. From just the earlier contact, it was clear whose image had more weight. Randidly was very adamant that it wasn’t stronger.

Which left only the option of testing how his completed path affected his Battle Intent…

Multifarious and varied, the darkness and mist and ticking pressed forward towards Drak Wyrd, seeping swiftly forward. Again, he responded by lashing out, but again, the affected parts of the image were squished and dissipated, but Randidly just pressed more forward, filling the gaps.

Within him, Randidly felt as the Aether began to circulate more quickly, moving to match the rising need.

It was strange and oddly draining to allow his image to get knocked back, but Randidly was starting to get the hang of it, especially after his spars with Azriel. She never bothered to clash against Randidly directly in terms of image, likely because she didn’t feel the need to, but it had given him at least the first steps in utilizing it, otherwise he would simply have been smashed backwards by Drak here.

Apparently, Drak abruptly realized that this was pointless. Or rather than pointless, his own limit in terms of Aether was much different than Randidly’s. Growling, Drak continued his advance, and Randidly winced, inwardly torn.

But it was too early to run. He needed to save his highest mobility for when Drak struck with his higher tiered skills. Better to meet him now, before he worked up a head of steam.

Empower and Haste, Mana Strengthening and the active of the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, and finally Stalemate Breaker all activated, Randidly thrust forward with the Inevitable Phantom Arrives; the attack one of his most powerful on short notice with all of the combined active and passive boosts.

Randidly blinked.

Drak had twisted and was past him, turning smoothly around. Whatever he had done… Randidly was shaken. That speed, the grace of his spear… It wasn’t just levels higher than him, Randidly would have sworn it was above Azriel. No, even possibly at the level of Divvet or Shal.

But there was a joy too, as Randidly twisted, and tried to reset his stance to address the attack from this new direction. As he turned, however, he found his right arm wouldn’t move. There was a huge gash in his shoulder, revealing the bone. Blood, belatedly, realized that the skin was broken and began to bubble forwards.

Even as his will stretched out to cover the wound, corralling the blood back into his body, the training spear that Randidly had brought into the arena cracked in the middle, broken into two pieces. The front piece fell from the numb fingers of Randidly’s right hand.

Drak had finished his turn and his attack was already halfway towards Randidly’s exposed chest.

Fuck.

Randidly used the Phantom Half Step several times in quick succession, and that gave Drak a brief pause, but then he just came forward, determined.

Although it was slightly crazy, Randidly was smiling. He wasn’t sure if it was the pain, or the absolutely flawless execution… but Randidly felt something joyful and raw in his chest facing this opponent.

“Come.” Randidly whispered, almost without realizing what he was doing.

Drak narrowed his eyes, a dark emotion taking over, and continued to oblige. Still, the wave of Anguish that smashed outwards in an intangible flood set him back somewhat. For Randidly, the pain sharpened things, but he also had a high Willpower and Resistance, with a skill level that granted him some immunity to the brunt of the pain.

Randidly also had several skills which dulled it somewhat. He had been used to Azriel stilling briefly, then continuing to rush forward, so Randidly hadn’t necessarily had high hopes for its use. But Drak stumbled.

When he first realized what was happening, Randidly hesitated, so shocked that it had worked well that he suspected a trap. But then long hours of duels kicked in, his instincts warning him he couldn’t afford to miss this chance. Hundreds of streams of Spearing Roots ripped upwards, aiming for Drak’s body.

Advancing, Randidly conjured the strangely marked spear into his left hand, which was still working, while his passives worked away at recovering mobility in the right. Moving quickly like this wasn’t ideal, but at least the throbbing headache Randidly was earning kept blood from spilling everywhere.

Even though it had taken him by surprise, by the time Randidly’s attack arrived, Drak was ready. Without even blinking, his spear whipped out, shearing through most of the attacking roots in place to do any real damage to him.

Still, Randidly didn’t give a shit, smashing forward with the rest, and thrusting forward with the spear in his left hand. At the same time, Randidly produced a Wall of Roots directly beneath Drak, aiming to throw him off balance, and used Summon Pestilence to shoot handfuls of bugs to block the eyes of his enemy.

Drak’s senses were better than Randidly could believe, because even through the bugs and the roots and the thorns, Drak’s off hand rose from the shaft of his spear and shot out, catching the spearhead of Randidly’s spear.

Randidly blinked. A thin trickle of blood fell from Drak’s hand, but the spear was stopped dead. Roots slammed into Drak, but only left shallow scratches. What in the fuck was his body made out of? And how high was his Resistance?

Drak thrust forward, Randidly’s life probably saved only because of the lift provided by the Wall of Thorns, keeping Drak off balance. As it was, he could only twist to the side.

“Circle of-”

But Randidly was hit in the side of the head with the shaft of the spear as Drak grunted and swiped at him, just using his superior physicality to interrupt the spell. Randidly scowled. Saying the name wasn’t necessary, just a habit. If he wanted to play that way…

Fire smashed outward from Randidly, burning away the roots and sending Drak stumbling backwards, protecting his face.

But Randidly’s grin fell away as Drak lowered his hands, and seemed supremely unhurt. From the fire, and from-

Drak, to his own surprise, fell to one knee, his body trembling, shutting down on himself.

Randidly continued to grin as he looked at his competitor, somewhat pleased. Gotcha.

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